Recent days have seen an ever-increasing level of threats from the Lebanese-Syrian Hezbollah-Assad axis against Israel’s position in the Golan. Not only was there Hezbollah’s promise to open a Syrian front against the Golan, but monday also saw intentional Syrian fire at the Golan, in which an IDF vehicle was damaged. This is footage of the incident, as well as of the Israeli response (in which a Syrian position was destroyed, according to the IDF).
The current event comes on the back of an incident earlier this week, in which Palestinian militants claimed responsibility for mortar attacks against the Golan. In all, the situation appears explosive, with open conflict a possibility (certainly now the Syrian conflict appears about to be heading south from Quseyr to the Damascus area, which is close to the Golan).
The volatility of the current situation makes it an opportune time to look at the Israeli forces on the Golan, which would play a major role in any larger conflagration. The main force protecting the Golan is the IDF’s 36th Armored Division, which includes (among also, for example, the well-known Golani infantry brigade) the 188th “Barak” (Lightning) and 7th “Saar me-Golan” (Storm from the Golan) armored brigades. These two armored brigades have storied pasts, and are perhaps best known for the dramatic role they played in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
In the 1973 war, the 7th and 188th defended the Golan with only about 180 tanks between them, the former in the northern sector and the latter in the South. (In fact, originally only the 188th had been assigned to protect the Golan, while the 7th was rushed in a mere few days earlier in response to mounting intelligence of an impending Syrian offensive). In contrast, the Syrian forces attacking along the entire Golan front numbered, among other significant forces, about 1400 tanks. Dramatic battles followed, but ultimately the 7th and 188th were able to hold the Syrian advance, subsequently going on to counter-attack to within 30 miles of Damascus. A particularly dramatic role was played by the 77th “Oz” battalion of the 7th armored brigade, commanded by Avigdor Kahalani, in the so-called Battle of the Valley of Tears. (From about 1.00 in the below video one can hear the recording that plays at the site of the battle).
Still, the 188th and 7th brigades’s successes in 1973 notwithstanding, more recently there has also been cause for criticism. In particular, the 2006 war in Lebanon saw significant casualties among Israel’s Merkavah tanks, with which the 36th division is equipped. In particular, Hezbollah tactics employed the Russian-supplied Kornet anti-tank missiles to deadly effect, a tactic which Israeli tank crews appeared insufficiently trained to handle, often fighting from a stationary position rather than exploiting the Merkavah’s mobility. No doubt a lot has changed since 2006, but the effectiveness of Israel’s armored corps remains something to be seen in any subsequent battle. For the whole story of the Merkavah’s performance in 2006, see the interesting Al-Jazeera documentary below.